This is the second of a two-part series I’m calling “The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills. You can see Part 1 here:
The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills-Part 1
As I said in Rethinking Berkeley, Naturally! I’m going to try to post more often and have less of a “hard science” aspect to these posts, unlike my Extreme Science blog.
In this second part, I’ve included some of the animals you can run into in the Hills—some you see all the time, and others, like the gray fox, are quite illusive. There are also some amazing skies in this series of photos. As a self-confessed weather nut, I never get tired to seeing the play of clouds over the San Francisco Bay and the Hills.
And so, let’s kick off Part 2 with some images of magnificent Bay Area clouds!
If you click on any of the images below, you can see a higher resoltuion 1600 x 1200 image.
These clouds, of course, are cirrus, which in this area so often are the heralds of distance storms marching in from the North Pacific for Gulf of Alaska. Cirrus clouds typically form above 23,000 feet (about 7,000m), in the cold region of the troposphere and are typically composed of ice crystals. In the view looking at the North Bay, you can see both the sweeping cirrus unicus and the denser cirrus fibratus.
This sunset was really dramatic and foreboding. I was in the Hills directly above the UCB Campus, looking across the Bay, past the Campanile (lower right) and toward the Golden Gate Bridge. A big Pacific storm was approaching, as the rapidly lowering sky foretold. The clouds in this picture are mostly altostratus and altocumulus, which are medium-level clouds.
This is perhaps my all-time favorite summer picture that I’ve taken in Strawberry Canyon. To me, it captures just about everything I love about the Berkeley Hills—the Eucalyptus and Oak trees, the beautiful golden hills, and a sky with gorgeous, puffy cumulus. It was hot, it was summer, and I was on my way up Centennial Drive to my beloved fire trails!
The color of the lichen on the trees in Strawberry Canyon are especially deep and brilliant after a rainstorm. I love how this yellow species contrasts with the moss.
I’m always amazed at the different moods of the Bay throughout the day. This grey sunset marked the end of yet another heavy late spring rain storm.
California poppies! Just seeing them makes me smile. Did you know Native Americans used poppy leaves medicinally? They also ate their seeds. Extract from the California poppy acts as a mild sedative when smoked, although apparently the effect is much milder than that of opium, which contains a much more powerful class of alkaloids.
If you live in the Bay Area, you’ve probably seen one of these little critters. The Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus nigris) is actually a non-native species, probably introduced to California around the beginning of the 20th century. You can see them throughout the Berkeley Hills, and there’s quite a population of them on the Berkeley campus. I’ve yet to see a native Western Gray Squirrel on my hikes, but I keep looking for them.
Eastern Fox Squirrel (left) vs. Western Gray Squirrel (right)
I met this young female Fox Squirrel on the North Campus near the Life Science Building. If you stop and make a “tchi tchi” noise, you can almost always make a Fox Squirrel stop and see if you have some goodie for them. Having raised a squirrel from the age of a blind pup, I know lots of squirrel communication sounds, and she seemed amazed at my vocabulary!
This fat and muscular male lives in Strawberry Canyon. He too was intrigued by my squirrel talk, and stopped to observe me, although the squirrels in the Canyon are much more wary of humans than the ones on campus.
A gray fox! I wrote about this encounter at this post:
Gray Fox in Strawberry Canyon and a Mother Fox’s Wisdom
I made a lot of noise to get the fox to turn lift its sleepy head and turn toward me. No doubt he wondered what the crazy human was doing! But I was so excited to see a gray fox that I didn’t want my picture to be nothing but a gray lump on that fallen tree. I wish I had had a telephoto lens to see more of this magnificent creature, which apparently, is one of the few foxes that can climbs trees. This one was sleeping at least 20 feet off the ground. (Be sure to click image for close-up!)
Here is a small cluster of ladybugs I saw this spring. In October of 2009, after our record rainstorm, I came upon an astonishing gathering of what had to have been hundreds of thousands of ladybugs along the fire trail off Centennial Drive. I wrote about this amazing ladybug gathering here:
They are the Lady(bugs) of the Canyon
Here is an amazing insect you are apt to run across in the Berkeley Hills, especially after a rain, the aptly named banana slug. This one was nearly 10 inches long and as big around as a small banana. Many people find them “gross,” and I know it can be what we humans call a “pest,” but I think it’s a beautiful animal. I watched this one for about 10 minutes as it gracefully moved about 3 feet from the pavement into some vegetation.
Down on its level, laying on my stomach to watch how its muscles propelled it along on a layer of mucous, I was reminded of a majestic (albeit, miniature) ocean liner as it glided along the pavement.
I came across this small (maybe 10 inch) snake walking down from the North Gate of the UCB campus. I’m not sure what species it might be, but my best guess is some species of Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis)—maybe a Forest Sharp-tailed snake. If some herpetologist wants to weight in, that would be great! It was moving very fast to try to take cover, and I barely caught it on camera before it disappeared into the foliage.
Here’s another view of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge near sunset. A Pacific storm was heading our way, and the high cirrus and cirrostratus clouds that appeared in the West at the beginning of the day were beginning to give way to lower level altocumulus and stratocumulus.
The height of some of the redwoods in Strawberry Canyon is astounding. I estimated that most of the trees in this grove were well over 110-120 feet tall. Now that I live in Northern California, I hope some day soon to see the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the tallest trees on earth, at Redwood National and State Parks.
I loved how these California poppies found a way to grow out of near solid rock along the upper fire trail at Strawberry Canyon.
When spring arrives in the Berkeley Hills, you really should climb up into them and see for yourself how deep, rich, and varied the greens are. After being brown all summer and through much of the winter, the hills are transformed by the winter and spring rains into an emerald wonderland.
One of the delights of walking up the streets that head up into the Berkeley Hills above the City of Berkeley are the little paths and well-kept lanes and walks that connect the lower and higher levels of the hills. Here’s one of my favorite paths (for privacy, I won’t say where.) If you don’t have a copy, I highly recommend getting the Map of Berkeley Pathways which is put out by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association.
More spring green near the top of Claremont Canyon.
I’ll end this post with a photo of a glorious sunset taken from the hills right above the UCB campus. (You can see the Campanile behind one of the Eucalyptus.) I hope this two-part series, “The Beauty of the Berkeley Hills” will inspire you to explore the Hills yourself and with loved ones and to always be alert for ways to preserve and protect this amazing natural treasure right at our doorsteps.
May we meet as friends, some day, in the Hills of Great Beauty!